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Next Generation 2021: Best young footballers of 2021

Mon 12 April 2021 | 7:30

Who are the best young talents in world football right now? Who will succeed in reaching the pinnacle of elite football in the near future? Follow us below as we take a look at some of the best young football players in 2021.

The era of Zinedine Zidane’s volley memorable and brilliant volley against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League final, Roberto Carlos’ incredible and unbelievable free-kick against France and the days of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and

Lionel Messi

's head-spinning and effective Tikitaka, Mario Gotze’s winner against Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final and

Cristiano Ronaldo

’s brilliance at Real Madrid and Manchester United as one of the world’s best young players are long over.

The world of football is entering a whole new era, with new generation of footballers setting foot on the pitch for the very first time as a professional for their respective clubs. While the era of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s dominance over the world of football is slowly coming to an end, we have new stars to look forward to, who can bring us something even more special in the near future given the chance and with enough effort from their side.

Many of you reading the title “

Best young footballers of 2021

” would surely think about the obvious choices that have taken the world by storm in recent season, such as

Kylian Mbappe

, Erling Braut Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden. But the truth is that the world of football is moving forward faster than ever and these still very young players are old news to many in the industry looking to invest in future stars.

While the sheer class, talent and professionalism of these footballers cannot be denied, they are no longer considered the best football wonderkids of 2021 as even younger footballers have already gotten their debuts at senior level. Let’s see who these footballers are, where they are now and what we believe will come of them in the near future.

Best young football players in 2021

Surely we have left you wondering the

best young talents in world football right now

are for long enough. So without further ado, here is a shortlist of all the exciting prospects that have caught the attention of football fans and numerous top clubs and scouts in recent months. Keep in mind that these footballers are somewhat of a less obvious stars, which is why those mentioned before are not listed here.

Goalkeeper

We have had so many bright talents stepping onto the big stage in world football over the years, with the likes of the legendary Iker Casillas and the fabulous Gianluigi Buffon making their debuts at a young age and quickly becoming the main shot-stopper of their respective clubs Real Madrid and

Juventus

. While talks about the best young goalkeeper spiraled around yet another Italian Gianluigi, this time being Gianluigi Donnarumma who plays for AC Milan, there is a new hotshot in town who is considered to be one of the

best football wonderkids of 2021

.

Anatoliy Trubin

  • Age: 19

  • Market Value: €7M

19-year-old goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin has just risen up the ranks at

Shakhtar Donetsk

’s youth team, earning a promotion to the club’s senior squad in January 2020. The Ukrainian is considered to be one of the

best young footballers of 2021

, having already made more than 40 appearances for the club, keeping 15 clean sheets and conceding 56 goals in the process.

The youngster, who is only one centimeter short of reaching a height of 2 meters, has a contract with the Ukrainian side until 2024 and top clubs in Europe are already sharpening their teeth to get their future main goalkeeper in the coming transfer windows.

Defenders

It has been a while since we got news of an up and coming defender since Matthijs de Ligt wowed everyone with his defensive ability during his spell at Ajax as an Under-21 footballer. But thankfully, now we have got the likes of Cristian Romero, William Saliba, Eric Garcia and Wesley Fofana to add to our shortlist of defenders as the

best young football players in 2021

.

Cristian Romero

  • Age: 22

  • Market Value: €25M

Genoa

found a true gem of a player back in 2018 when they signed Cristian Romero from Belgrano for almost €5 million.  The center-backs impressive run of form led to Juventus splashing the cash and paying more than €25 million to acquire the youngster’s services back in 2019.

Since then, he has been loaned out to two other clubs to get more first-team action, being loaned back to his former club in his first season at Juventus. However, he has gained much more prominence during his current loan spell at

Atalanta

, where the 22-year-old center-back has already managed to make 32 appearances and even score 3 goals and provide 4 assists in the process.

William Saliba

  • Age: 20

  • Market Value: €17M

While many thought that Mikel Arteta might find a spot in his squad at

Arsenal

for one of the

best young footballers of 2021

, 20-year-old William Saliba was loaned out to OGC Nice in this year’s January transfer window, where he has managed to make his mark and become quite an integral part of the French side.

The Bondy-born Center-back has made 14 appearances for The Eagles and showing signs of improvement since his days at Saint-Etienne and his rather disappointing short spell at Arsenal, who are anxiously waiting to see how their new signing turns out in the near future. Luckily for the Gunners, Saliba has lived up to the expectations so far and is deservedly a member of the best football wonderkids of 2021.

Eric Garcia

  • Age: 20

  • Market Value: €20M

While Barcelona’s fame La Masia youth academy used to be known as one of if not the best academies in the world, producing the likes of Andres Iniesta and Xavi and creating the player commonly known as the GOAT. However, in recent years, the club and its academies have all seen a significant drop, letting go of their promising players so easily, with the likes of Takefusa Kubo, Xavi Simons and Eric Garcia all joining other top clubs in Europe instead of staying in Catalonia.

Premier League side

Manchester City

were one of the lucky few to get their hands on Barcelona’s youngsters, as the Cityzens signed Eric Garcia back in 2017 and implemented the center-back into their U18 squad. Now the 20-year-old is all grown up and has already gotten a taste of professional football in England. However, the €20-million-worth defender’s contract is about to end at the end of the 2020-21 season and his future might be in doubt as other clubs could try to sign him after his contract ends with City.

Wesley Fofana

  • Age: 20

  • Market Value: €30M

Leicester City

’s new arrival Wesley Fofana is without a doubt one of the best young talents in world football right now, as the 20-year-old has already managed to secure a €35 million move from Saint-Etienne to the Premier League club. While the center-back did have an impressive spell at the French side, he has recently upped his game at his new club, having already made more than 25 appearances and providing an assist in the process.

The French center-back is yet to make his international debut and is a long road away from becoming a world-class player, but he has managed to show signs of his true potential since joining The Foxes in October 2020.

Midfielders

Those playing in the midfield are usually the ones who make their sides tick like clockwork, which is why every team needs at least one or two decent enough midfielders to challenge for anything. The newest midfielders to join the best young footballers of 2021 are the likes of Jude Bellingham, Giovanni Reyna, Emile Smith-Rowe, Bukayo Saka, Ilaix Moriba, Pedri, Ryan Gravenberch and Florian Wirtz, who have become the sensation of their teams in no time.

Jude Bellingham

  • Age: 17

  • Market Value: €35M

Borussia Dortmund

have completely reshuffled their decks in the past year or so, signing the superstars of the future one by one, with the likes of Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland joining the Bundesliga side and tearing through opposition defender like hot knife to butter. One of the most exciting prospects who has already earned himself quite a hefty price tag is the 17-year-old English midfielder Jude Bellingham, who plays in the center of the midfield and already has a €35 million market value.

His transfer did in fact break the record for the highest transfer fee paid for a 17-year-old when he joined Borussia Dortmund from Birmingham for €23 million in the summer of 2020. Bellingham became both the youngest player to feature in a game for Birmingham City and the youngest player to score for the English club at the age of 16, which turned all the heads towards the young sensation.

While some clubs might retire certain numbers in honor of a legendary player, Bellingham managed to impress his former club so much that they retired the number 22 shirt upon his departure, which says quite a lot about the midfielder and of course Birmingham City.

Giovanni Reyna

  • Age: 18

  • Market Value: €38M

England-born American Giovanni Reyna is another of one the top talents on Dortmund’s roster to be selected as one of the best young footballers of 2021. The 18-year-old attacking midfielder is a complement to Jude Bellingham as they have the ability to link up in the midfield and create something quite unique on the pitch. The youngster has already made more than 65 appearances for the German club and has managed to rack up 13 goals and provide 16 assists in the process, which is truly incredible for a footballer his age.

While Dortmund paid €35 million to acquire Jude Bellingham’s services, Reyna put pen on paper after his contract ended with the NYCFC academy and joined Dortmund’s U-19 side for a while before quickly rising up the ranks and joining the club’s senior squad in January 2020.

Emile Smith-Rowe

  • Age: 20

  • Market Value: €13M

It seems that all the top clubs in the world are looking to boost their youth academies instead of looking to sign the very best in the world for unbelievable prices. One of the clubs who seem to be on the right track are Arsenal, who have been in the business of introducing future stars to football for quite a long time and have recently produced bright talents once again.

One of the best young footballers of 2021 is Emile Smith-Rowe, the 20-year-old English attacking midfielder who plays for Mikel Arteta’s side and is already a part of the main squad from time to time. The Arsenal academy graduate has already spent some time out on loan at clubs including 

RB Leipzig

and Huddersfield and has had a taste of professional football, which is why his market value saw a sudden rise in 2020, reaching from €2 million to more than €13 million.

The young midfielder has managed to make more than 35 appearances for The Gunners since making his debut in the 2018-19 season, scoring 5 goals and providing 6 assists in the process. This impressive performance so far has surely affected his status as one of the best young footballers of 2021 and a number of clubs might be interested in stealing the diamond in the rough from under Arsenal’s nose.

Bukayo Saka

  • Age: 19

  • Market Value: €60M

Arsenal have undoubtedly hit the jackpot with this one as Bukayo Saka is already recognized as a sensation by many in the world of football. The English midfielder and winger possess immense versatility and can play on a multitude of positions on the flanks. Saka’s market value says it all as the 19-year-old footballer already has a hefty price tag on his head, with the numbers going higher every week.

He has been phenomenal for his side in all competitions, making a total of 77 appearances and managing to score 10 goals and provide 18 assists in the process. As one of the best young footballers of 2021, Saka has a contract running until 2024 and Arsenal won’t give up their new exciting talent to anyone that easily.

Ilaix Moriba

  • Age: 18

  • Market Value: €10M

While many of

Barcelona

’s raw talents have left the club’s youth side in recent years, there are others such as Ilaix Moriba who are talented enough to be considered as one of the best young footballers of 2021 and are also loyal enough to stay with club through the difficult times and make a total of 8 appearances and even score a goal while providing 3 assists in the process.

18-year-old Ilaix Moriba is a Guinea-born Spanish central midfielder, who has spent his whole childhood playing for La Blaugrana’s youth academy, slowly rising up the ranks to reach the senior squad in the 2020-21 season thanks to Ronald Koeman giving him a chance with the big guys.

Pedri

  • Age: 18

  • Market Value: €70M

A player is guaranteed to be on the list of best young footballers of 2021 when they get Lionel Messi’s seal of approval. The Argentine seems pleased with how Pedro Gonzalez Lopez, shortly known as Pedri has improved over the last few months. The 18-year-old Spanish midfielder has already grabbed himself a number of goals and assists at Barcelona after returning from his loan spell at Las Palmas. The versatile youngster has made more than 42 appearances for La Blaugrana, scoring three goals and providing 6 assists in the process.

His impressive performance at Barcelona has earned him so many accolades this season, with his market value seeing a massive rise and decupling in only a few months.

Ryan Gravenberch

  • Age: 18

  • Market Value: €28M

Ajax

are obviously well-renowned for their accuracy and efficiency in finding world-class talents, raising them and letting them go to other elite clubs in Europe for the right price. One of their recent products, who has earned himself a place on the list of best young footballers of 2021, is the Dutch midfielder Ryan Gravenberch. The 18-year-old has already earned himself a place in the regular starting XI of his club and has made a total of 36 appearances this season, scoring 4 goals and providing 6 assists.

Not only is Gravenberch a regular starter for one of the best clubs in the world, he is also an international debutant and has already got himself 2 international caps under his belt. He made his international debut for the Netherlands on March 24 2021 at the age of 18 years, 10 months and 8 days old.

Florian Wirtz

  • Age: 17

  • Market Value: €45M

The list for the best young footballers of 2021 just keeps getting better and better with even younger talents finding their way into the list as we go further ahead. One of the youngest footballers on this list is the 17-year-old Florian Wirtz who currently plays for

Bayer Leverkusen

in Bundesliga and has earned himself quite a hefty price tag in recent months.

The German attacking midfielder is in fact an FC Koln academy product who joined Leverkusen’s U19 side for less than €500k in the 2020 January transfer window. Now, his market value has soared through the sky and reached a whopping €45 million, which shows what a truly talented youngster FC Koln have given away for such a low price.

Of course we shall have to wait and see if the bubble is going to burst or if the 17-year-old is going to prove his worth by improving his game even further. The attacking midfielder has made 40 appearances for Bayer Leverkusen’s senior team and has already managed to score 8 goals and provide 7 assists in the process.

Forwards

Forwards usually tend to be the stars of the show as many pay attention to who scores the goals rather than who stops the balls from going in. Thankfully we are absolutely in no shortage of talented forwards and strikers who are gaining prominence week in week out, even outperforming some of the world’s current stars at such young ages.

Players such as Rayan Cherki, Gabriel Martinelli, Ansu Fati, Rodrygo, Amad Diallo, Youssoufa Moukoko and Jamal Musiala have all made their impact as some of the best young footballers of 2021 and are on their way towards fame and glory at their respective clubs.

Rayan Cherki

  • Age: 17

  • Market Value: €25M

17-year-old Rayan Cherki might not have had the opportunity to prove himself as a regular starter for Lyon this season, but he has managed to act as a super-sub, coming onto the pitch late in the game to blow a fresh breath of air into his club’s lungs most games.

The forward has made 21 appearances this season for

Olympique Lyonnais

, providing an assists in the process. He might be a long way away from reaching the level of the very best in football, but he is certainly going in the right direction. His market value has seen a significant rise since last season, reaching €25 million from just €8 million.

Gabriel Martinelli

  • Age: 19

  • Market Value: €22M

The versatile 19-year-old Gabriel Martinelli has been a sensation and a source of hope and high spirits for Arsenal fans as he reminds the club’s supporters of their long-gone better days in the league and in Europe. Of course the forward has not gotten as many chances to play as he may have hoped for this season, with Mikel Arteta dropping him from his regular squad.

The winger who occasionally plays as a center-forward has made a total of 36 appearances for The Gunners since his promotion to the senior side last season, managing to score 10 goals and provide 5 assists in the process.

Ansu Fati

  • Age: 18

  • Market Value: €80M

There was a short period in the 2020-21 season that people and the media just couldn’t stop talking about the sensational Ansu Fati, who took the world by storm both on club and international levels, rejuvenating Barca’s hopes of finding their new prospects and creating history at such a young age.

The now 18-year-old’s market value was already a massive €25 million when he joined Barcelona’s reserves side from the club’s youth academy, which is why all eyes turned at him when he finally made his professional debut for Barcelona’s senior side. Had it not been for his injury, which stopped Fati from playing for a significant amount of time this season, his market value might have soared through the sky, reaching figures above the €100-million-mark.

The Guinea-born Spanish forward’s current market value stands at a whopping €80 million at the age of just 18 years old. Barcelona’s exciting prospect has made a total of 43 appearances since his promotion to the major leagues, where he has scored 13 goals and provided 5 assists.

Rodrygo

  • Age: 20

  • Market Value: €45M

While the media was all over Vinicius Junior after his big-money move to

Real Madrid

, it was Rodrygo who managed to steal the show and score a brilliant Champions League hat-trick to become one of the youngest players to ever score a hattrick in the famous old competition. The Brazilian, just like his Spanish counterpart Ansu Fati has been struggling with injuries lately, which has slowed down his development process.

The now 20-year-old Rodrygo moved to Real Madrid from

Santos FC

for a massive €45 million in 2019 and has made 47 appearances since joining Los Blancos, scoring 8 goals and adding 10 assists to his overall career tally.

Amad Diallo

  • Age: 18

  • Market Value: €15M

Manchester United

are known for splashing the cash and overpaying a club to get their hands on the players they want with fewer problems in the way, which is why they paid over €20 million to sign Amad Diallo from Atalanta in this season’s January transfer window. Many have doubted the 18-year-old’s worth and his overall potential, but the Red Devils insist upon seeing a great amount of potential in the Ivorian winger, who is slowly starting to shine and prove his worth to both his club and his doubters.

Even though Diallo has only made 4 appearances for Manchester United and has only played a total of 88 minutes, he did get to score a crucial goal in the club’s Europa League Round of 16 first leg match against AC Milan, which helped Solskjaer’s side go through on aggregate after winning the second leg.

Youssoufa Moukoko

  • Age: 16

  • Market Value: €10M

Youssoufa Mouokoko has been so good that many have accused the mere 16-year-old of lying about his age to the officials. The center-forward is one of the youngest players to ever play professional football at such a stage. Moukoko is only just beginning to find his feet at Borussia Dortmund, who already have many of the best and brightest talents in their squad.

Overall, the youngster has played 15 games for the German side and has actually managed to score 3 goals despite coming on as a substitute in most of those games. The Cameroon-born German center-forward has earned the respect and trust of his superiors, with even Erling Haaland admitting that Moukoko is much better than him at that age.

Jamal Musiala

  • Age: 18

  • Market Value: €24M

Bayern Munich have found their future star as well, as the 18-year-old Jamal Musiala has already gotten himself a number of starts in the club’s main team, making a total of 30 appearances since his promotion to the senior side in the 2019-20 season, managing to score 4 goals in the process. The immensely versatile forward is surely one of the best young footballers of 2021 as he has already made himself quite an impressive trophy cabinet with a Bundesliga title, a FIFA Club World Cup trophy and a UEFA Supercup title to his name.

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